by Susan Propst
University campuses are growing increasingly popular as affordable and inviting alternatives to traditional hotel conference sites. And more conference planners are choosing the Berkeley campus as the destination for their next meeting or retreat.
The University's reputation, the diversity of the campus and community, the climate, and the proximity to San Francisco draw thousands of national and international conference guests each year.
While meetings are held on the campus year-round, the conference business really goes into high gear at the close of spring semester when campus housing staff prepare over 2,000 student residence hall rooms for summer conference guests. From the first of June until mid-August, the Conference Services Office, part of the Department of Housing and Dining Services, coordinates lodging, meeting space, and catering for as many as 15,000 visitors.
The Clark Kerr Campus, with a 6,000-square-foot conference center including a 375-seat theater and four classrooms, is a premier conference site, particularly for large groups who want a quieter, more scenic meeting environment. Foothill is another favorite conference location, while the high-rise complexes closer to campus are popular with student groups.
Some conferences attendees are University-based and only need to travel across campus. Many are from California or other areas of the United States. But at least 25 percent are international travelers from Europe, Asia, and South America.
From the Congress on Semiotic Studies to the California Judicial College, the list of conferences held at Berkeley sounds like a Who's Who's of Scholars. The attendees represent science, linguistics, law, sports, business and labor, academia, and many other areas.
According to Ray Whitaker, manager of conference services, meeting organizers and guests learn about Berkeley from publications and referrals, but the international marketing efforts of University departments are very important in bringing new and returning groups to Berkeley. For example, the English Language Program of University Extension holds a five-week Intensive English Course and a number of shorter courses such as English Plus Golf each summer. Over 400 students, primarily from Korea, Japan, and Taiwan attend these programs and live in the residence halls.
The Summer Session Program, which began several decades ago, this year expanded to four individual sessions and hundreds of summer students lived in campus housing.
"The conference program provides a valuable service to the guests who want to be on campus. It's an effective way to use housing that would otherwise be vacant in the summer, and it brings additional income to the campus and the community. Visitors buy Cal souvenirs at ASUC, and shop and dine in Berkeley," says Whitaker.
During the academic year, Conference Services coordinates daytime meeting arrangements and dining services at Kerr Campus. For information, phone 642-4444.